Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Falcons on the Atlantic Coast

Coming from a spring hawk watch on the south shore of Lake Erie, we see very few peregrine falcons or merlins during our formal season, perhaps five to ten birds of each species in an average year. Although we do see fairly good numbers of migrating and local kestrels, in order to get our falcon fix we travel to the Atlantic coast during fall migration to see merlins and peregrines.

There are a number of excellent established fall hawk watches on the coast (check out HawkCount on the internet). We’re partial to Kiptopeke on the southernmost tip of Virginia’s eastern shore. But for the last couple of years, we’ve chosen to find our own observations points south of Kiptopeke.

Although we know migrating raptors in fall, especially falcons, travel down the line of barrier islands (the “outer banks”) south of Kiptopeke, currently there are no formal hawk watches operating and reporting regularly to HawkCount for hundreds of miles south of the Virginia border. So setting up south of Hatteras on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina allowed us to feel a little bit like pioneers. Also, barefoot and shorts and t-shirts in October was a nice contrast to the duofold long underwear, balaclavas and mittens we associate with our official hawk watching duties during Lake Erie’s spring.

Our coastal fall hawkwatching goals were educational and recreational. We wanted to improve our skills at identifying peregrines and merlins, and we hoped for the excitement of at least quick looks at some of North America’s most dramatic avian wildlife. The peregrines, at least, didn’t disappoint us this year.

During one two-hour period in early October we saw nearly 40 migrating peregrines. Flying into twenty-five mile-per-hour head winds, the peregrines came fast and low, skimming over the vegetation in the dry marsh, mostly below eye-level from our observation point in the dunes.

1 comment:

  1. Gil,

    I'm jealous and already thinking I should start planning a trip south next fall for falcons!